Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Wharf Rat

It ain't New Year's Eve without the Dead. Jerry at his most resplendent.


The new neo-Hooverite solutions

Cut the corporate tax. This seems to be the prevailing brilliant idea of those who, given the chance, would have voted for a second Hoover term.

Cato’s Chris Edwards offers his proposal for warding off depression: “What Obama should do is a pass a large corporate tax rate cut, which would spur long-run growth.” Yes, neo-Hooverism taken to new and exciting heights allowing everyone to dust off the Keynes line about how in the long-run we’re all dead in an appropriate context.
Amity Schlaes goes still further. Cut the corporate tax and the capital gains tax.

During the years when the housing bubble was growing to ever more dangerous levels the Washington Post could never find room for an oped piece warning of its dangers. There were so many more issues that were more important than an $8 trillion housing bubble.

However, just over three months ago the Post did find room for a piece telling readers that the economy was really just fine and that the people complaining were a bunch of whiners. In this proud tradition, the Post has an oped column today by Amity Schlaes that tells readers the best way to deal with the economic downturn is to cut the corporate income tax and virtually eliminate the capital gains tax.

Yes, that Amity Schlaes.

And the same Amity Schlaes who doesn't like capital gains taxes, thought the real problem with The New Deal was higher wages.


The regulation debate

If the moral of the story is, figure out who predicted this mess and follow their advice, then Dean Baker is indispensable.


Delaney Bramlett

Tuesday, December 30, 2008


When Joe Biden remarked that Obama would be "tested" early in his administration, the future VP was derided as suffering once again from foot in mouth disease. Seems to me, the tests are being devised even before Obama takes office. I don't know how calculating Hamas leadership is, but I suspect that they chose now to break the cease-fire knowing full well that Isreal would respond with full force now, in the waning days of a U.S. administration that knows only one way to respond to an asymetrical attack.

While American-made F16s drop bombs on Gaza, the United States is drawn inexorably into this dispiriting conflict and the Obama administration finds shrinking by the day options for mediating an end to a conflict in which one side draws its oxygen from hatred of Israel even as Israel stokes that hatred by responding to innacurate missile firings with overwhelming force.


Comedy gold

I'm sure that the other songs on the CD sent by RNC chairman hopeful (and by hopeful, I mean I hope he gets the job) as a "Christmas gift" -- with such titles as "The Star Spanglish Banner" are just as funny.


Monday, December 29, 2008

"Midnight basketball"

Ah, memories.

The dissident Democrats provided the killer margin to an all-but-solid G.O.P. opposition, which in recent weeks had taken to denouncing the bill as a pork-barrel measure that included too many social-work incentives for activities such as midnight basketball and self-esteem counseling for inner- city kids. After it was voted down, Republican Gerald Solomon of New York danced on the grave. "This is a welfare bill with a few good things to cover it."

Beyond that, they opposed it for the simple reason that the President wanted it. Because it would have allowed them to present themselves as tough on crime, Democrats badly needed the bill for their re-election bids this fall. "Don't give it to them" was the message the Republican National Committee sent last week to 38 House Republicans who voted earlier this year in favor of the provision banning assault weapons. Each received a copy of a resolution that the Alaska branch of the party had put before the G.O.P.'s recent national meeting in Los Angeles. It called upon the Republican National Committee to deny campaign funds to the 38 dissenters. Though the resolution had not been voted on, it was enough for the party leadership to draw it to the dissidents' attention -- much as the commander of a firing squad might blandly direct his prisoners to notice that line of rifles over there. Nineteen changed their votes.

Yes, "welfare" for inner-city kids -- Republicans derided it as the worst of welfare and pork barrel spending.

Except that it seems to have worked.

The murder rate among black teenagers has climbed since 2000 even as murders by young whites have scarcely grown or declined in some places, according to a new report.

The celebrated reduction in murder rates nationally has concealed a “worrisome divergence,” said James Alan Fox, a criminal justice professor at Northeastern University who wrote the report, to be released Monday, with Marc L. Swatt. And there are signs, they said, that the racial gap will grow without countermeasures like restoring police officers in the streets and creating social programs for poor youths.

The main racial difference involves juveniles ages 14 to 17. In 2000, 539 white and 851 black juveniles committed murder, according to an analysis of federal data by the authors. In 2007, the number for whites, 547, had barely changed, while that for blacks was 1,142, up 34 percent.

The increase coincided with a rise in the number of murders involving guns, Dr. Fox said. The number of young blacks who were victims of murder also rose in this period.

Murder rates around the country are far below the record highs of the late 1980s and early 1990s, when a crack epidemic spawned violent turf battles.

“Regrettably, as the nation celebrated the successful fight against violent crime in the 1990s, we grew complacent and eased up on our crime-fighting efforts,” the authors said.

The report primarily blames cutbacks in federal support for community policing and juvenile crime prevention, reduced support for after-school and other social programs, and a weakening of gun laws. Cuts in these areas have been felt most deeply in poor, black urban areas, helping to explain the growing racial disparity in violent crime, Dr. Fox said.

But Bruce Western, a sociologist at Harvard, cautioned that the change in murder rates was not large and did not yet show a clear trend. Dr. Western also said that the impact of the reduction in government spending on crime control would have to be studied on a city-by-city basis, and that many other changes, including a sagging economy, could have affected murder rates.

Conservative criminologists place greater emphasis on the breakdown of black families, rather than cuts in government programs, in explaining the travails of black youths.

Of course they do. But that's the point. The breakdown in black families is precisely the reason for these programs. We can blame inner city blacks for the trend and ignore it -- the conservative approach, i.e., "Let God sort em out" -- or we can, as unemployment rises in our cities as well as our suburbs, fund programs for strapped cities that might actually work and save some lives.

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Blue Monday, Jimi Hendrix edition

Sunday, December 28, 2008

But remember, Europeans are from Venus

Didn't have a chance to note this yesterday, but Saturday's NYT had a pair of stories representing an interesting dichotomy.

In Germany, they're building houses that require no sources of heat other than the appliances and people in them.

In Berthold Kaufmann’s home, there is, to be fair, one radiator for emergency backup in the living room — but it is not in use. Even on the coldest nights in central Germany, Mr. Kaufmann’s new “passive house” and others of this design get all the heat and hot water they need from the amount of energy that would be needed to run a hair dryer.

“You don’t think about temperature — the house just adjusts,” said Mr. Kaufmann, watching his 2-year-old daughter, dressed in a T-shirt, tuck into her sausage in the spacious living room, whose glass doors open to a patio. His new home uses about one-twentieth the heating energy of his parents’ home of roughly the same size, he said.

Architects in many countries, in attempts to meet new energy efficiency standards like the Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design standard in the United States, are designing homes with better insulation and high-efficiency appliances, as well as tapping into alternative sources of power, like solar panels and wind turbines.

The concept of the passive house, pioneered in this city of 140,000 outside Frankfurt, approaches the challenge from a different angle. Using ultrathick insulation and complex doors and windows, the architect engineers a home encased in an airtight shell, so that barely any heat escapes and barely any cold seeps in. That means a passive house can be warmed not only by the sun, but also by the heat from appliances and even from occupants’ bodies.

And in Germany, passive houses cost only about 5 to 7 percent more to build than conventional houses.

And in the U.S.? Well, it's a mess.

Coal may never make economic sense in areas far from where it is mined. But in places within reasonable delivery range, the price tends to be stable, compared with heating oil or natural gas. Prices for natural gas more than tripled in recent years before plunging in the last few months amid the downturn.

Coals vary in quality, but on average, a ton of coal contains about as much potential heat as 146 gallons of heating oil or 20,000 cubic feet of natural gas, according to the Energy Information Administration. A ton of anthracite, a particularly high grade of coal, can cost as little as $120 near mines in Pennsylvania. The equivalent amount of heating oil would cost roughly $380, based on the most recent prices in the state — and over $470 using prices from December 2007. An equivalent amount of natural gas would cost about $480 at current prices.

Mr. Buck said he could buy coal for $165 a ton. On a blustery afternoon recently, he was still studying the manual for his $2,300 Alaska Channing stoker, which gave off an intense heat in the den. An automated hopper in the back slowly dispensed fine anthracite coal chips into the stove’s belly, and every couple of days, Mr. Buck emptied the ash. He said he hoped the stove would cut his oil consumption in half.

“Now, somewhere, you’ve got to take into account the convenience of turning up your thermostat, versus having two tons of coal to shovel and the hopper and ashes to deal with,” Mr. Buck said. But if the $330 worth of coal in his makeshift bin “heats the house for the winter,” he added, “you can’t beat it.”

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Friday, December 26, 2008

The Sex Kitten

She was probably the first sex symbol I became aware of growing up in the 1960s.

For these performances Ms. Kitt likely drew on the hardship of her early life. She was born Eartha Mae Keith in North, S.C., on Jan. 17, 1927, a date she did not know until about 10 years ago, when she challenged students at Benedict College in Columbia, S.C., to find her birth certificate, and they did. She was the illegitimate child of a black Cherokee sharecropper mother and a white man about whom Ms. Kitt knew little. She worked in cotton fields and lived with a black family who, she said, abused her because she looked too white. “They called me yella gal,” Ms. Kitt said.

At 8 she was sent to live in Harlem with an aunt, Marnie Kitt, who Ms. Kitt came to believe was really her biological mother. Though she was given piano and dance lessons, a pattern of abuse developed there as well: Ms. Kitt would be beaten, she would run away and then she would return. By her early teenage years she was working in a factory and sleeping in subways and on the roofs of unlocked buildings. (She would later become an advocate, through Unicef, on behalf of homeless children.)

Her show-business break came on a lark, when a friend dared her to audition for the Katherine Dunham Dance Company. She passed the audition and permanently escaped the cycle of poverty and abuse that defined her life till then.

But she took the steeliness with her, in a willful, outspoken manner that mostly served her career, except once. In 1968 she was invited to a White House luncheon and was asked by Lady Bird Johnson about the Vietnam War. She replied: “You send the best of this country off to be shot and maimed. No wonder the kids rebel and take pot.” The remark reportedly caused Mrs. Johnson to burst into tears and led to a derailment in Ms. Kitt’s career.

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Can a president get a do-over?

Seems that preznit said, "Oopsie" as more details of the kind of character he had pardoned in the Toussie matter, and "revoked the pardon." It's not clear he can do that.


From Internment Camp to MLB

The father of Don Wakamatsu, the new skipper of the Seattle Mariners, was born in an Internment Camp in California.


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Santa Claus

An 1898 film by G.A. Smith


Our tragic president

Reading this story reminded me of Obama's back story of grief and sadness even in the face of historic achievement. His father and mother had died before he was elected to the Senate, one of the few black U.S. Senators in history. The last formative influence from his family died two days before he was elected president.

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Clutching their pearls, once again

Adam Nagourney writes that Republicans are having trouble figuring out ways to attack Obama. That doesn't stop the perpetually aggrieved at NRO to find something deeply disturbing about one of the president-elect's early decisions: his choice of inauguration poet.

As for Nagourney's piece, I think Republicans will figure out ways to attack him once he actually enters office. It's what they do.

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Sabathia, Teixeira, and U.S. Steel...and Bach

Over at Bronx Banter, Diane Firstman runs down pretty much all of the reaction to the Teixeira signing from the usual scribes.

And Alex Belth blogs it best:

“I hope they lose every single game,” Pat Jordan said to me when I called with the news a few hours later. Both men, incidentally, are Republican, but they are also both rebellious, outsiders, self-made men. They aren’t the kind that get off rooting for US Steel.

Yet here I am, a New York Liberal, and yet US Steel, that’s my team. I used to have guilt about it, for years it worried me. Then I grew up. What’s the use feeling guilty? You have accept what is. Professional baseball isn’t a game. The Yankees are out to win, every year, forever. Isn’t that why Ban Johnson created the Highlanders in the first place? They will spend whatever it they have to spend. They pay a big luxury tax in return. They might offend everything you stand for. So be it. I get it.

I like being a Yankee fan. If Yankee fans are cursed by anthing, it is the teams’ ruthless ambition and unyielding arrogance. The curse for a rational-minded Yankee fan is that you are rooting for the front-runner, the bullies. And if you are overly neurotic you will question what that says about your moral fiber. So, we listen to other fans ridicule our team as something less-than-wholesome, something corrupt.

As far as curses go, it’s not so bad...

Oh, and by the way, another New York Christmas tradition is under way: WKCR's Bach Fest. Listen.

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Yes, let's talk about Marc Rich

If I'm not mistaken, someone bought a presidential pardon for a piece of shit.

Toussie, who falsified the finances of prospective homebuyers seeking HUD mortgages, pleaded guilty in 2003 to mail fraud and lying to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Despite having scammed hundreds of families -- selling overpriced, poorly built homes to minority first-time buyers who couldn't afford them -- Toussie was sentenced to only five months in prison and five months house arrest, and has been out of jail for several years now, working as a real estate and marketing consultant.

So why on earth give this guy a pardon now? Given the economic circumstances of the day, is now really a good time for the president to pardon a scam artist who got off easy running an illegal mortgage scheme?

Making matters worse, Toussie's father, Robert, made his first political donation in April, giving the Republican National Committee $28,500. Four months later, the U.S. Pardon Attorney received Toussie's pardon petition, and five months after that, Toussie's record is suddenly clean by presidential fiat.

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The Kissinger tapes

Should be quite a trove as both Nixon and Kissinger were recording their calls without the others knowledge. And then there's stuff like this:

In April 1971, Mr. Kissinger accepted a call from the beat poet Allen Ginsberg, who hoped to arrange a meeting between top Nixon administration officials and antiwar activists.

“Perhaps you don’t know how to get out of the war,” Ginsberg ventured.

Mr. Kissinger said he was open to a meeting. “I like to do this,” he said, “not just for the enlightenment of the people I talk to, but to at least give me a feel of what concerned people think.”

Then Ginsberg upped the ante. “It would be even more useful if we could do it naked on television,” he said.

Mr. Kissinger’s reply is transcribed simply as “Laughter.”

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Personal responsibility

There's something touchingly Gallic about this, many "feeder funds" are out there and, surely, they can't have all simply invested in a single Ponzi scheme.

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Government cheese

Or rather, marijuana.

What's fascinating about this Q&A is the unintended case it makes for legalization.

It's been cultivated for thousands of years.


A. Though cannabis had been used by man for thousands of years, it wasn’t until 1964 that the actual chemical structure of the active ingredient, tetrahydrocannabinol — THC — was determined. That stimulated new research on the plant.

Illicit marijuana has stuff on that can kill you...courtesy of the government.


A. The most obvious reason is that with confiscated marijuana, you don’t really know what you have. When researchers are performing clinical tests, they must have standardized material that will be the same every time. And it must be safe. You certainly wouldn’t want to give a sick person something sprayed with pesticide or angel dust, substances we’ve detected in some illicit marijuana.

It's a phenomenonal plant that's grown in every continent.


A. That’s a very good question. Most of the illicit material in the 1960s came from Mexico. So, in collaboration with the D.E.A. and the Mexican government, we acquired those seeds. Later, we acquired others from Colombia, Thailand, Jamaica, India, Pakistan and places in the Middle East. That permitted us to study chemical and botanical differences. By 1976, we were growing about 96 different varieties.

Interestingly, that led us to see that there was only one species of cannabis. It had always been thought that there were many. But you could see that the chemistry of this plant is the same qualitatively no matter where it comes from. What makes each different is the relative proportion of the different chemicals in there, which doesn’t make a different species. It’s really the same species, but different varieties of it. The different types of varieties hybridize very easily.

Many, many adults really like it.

At this laboratory, which began in 1968, we often investigate marijuana’s chemistry. We also have a farm where we grow cannabis for federally approved researchers. Our material is employed in clinical studies around the country, to see if the active ingredient in this plant is useful for pain, nausea, glaucoma, for AIDS patients and so on. For these tests, researchers need standardized material for cigarettes or THC pills. We grow the cannabis as contractors for the National Institute on Drug Abuse — NIDA. And the only researchers who can get our material are those with special permits. We have visitors at the building now and then who ask, “Oh, do you give samples?” We say, “No!”

But, no.

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Seasons greetings from the NY Yankees


.308/.410/.552 combined last year with Atlanta and Anaheim. .290/.378/.541 over his six year MLB career.

Gold Glove first baseman. 28 years old. Not wearing a Red Sox cap next year.

As grim as things are sure to get economically in 2009, the Yankees are going to put a pretty good product on the field of their shiny new Stadium.


Quite a legacy

The Bush administration and its craven apologists, have been issuing pronouncements in recent weeks attempting to burnish what's left of the rusted chrome that is "Bush's legacy." The most common argument you hear made is that there haven't been any attacks on U.S. soil since 9-11-01. Careful readers of this blog may recall that I said "So what" to the claim a week or so ago. Matt Yglesias takes it even further.

This is like saying that except for the Great Depression, Herbert Hoover had a good economic record. The vast majority of Americans to have ever been killed by foreign terrorists were killed under George W. Bush’s watch. As Gillespie says, whether or not a president succeeds in preventing foreign terrorists from murdering thousands of American citizens is an important part of that president’s record. And Bush took office on January 20, 2001. Nine or so months later by far the largest terrorist attack on American soil was perpetrated. That’s a fantastically enormous failing. If you only look at Bush’s final seven years, you’ll see that he was as good as every other president at preventing terrorist attacks. And if you include his entire presidency, you’ll see that he was by far the worst.

Exactly so.


Can't be bothered

Classic Doughy Pantload:

Well, If She Says So It Must Be True [Jonah Goldberg]

Arianna Huffington has a too-leaden-to-be-good-parody piece on why laissez-faire capitalism has been a "monumental failure." She offers all the familiar clichés and steals all the bases she can.

I just can't bring myself to bother more than that.

And I'm not exactly clear what it means to "[steal] all the bases she can."


Red Barber

This has got to be one of the most amazing things I've ever heard.

He was then in his final season with the Cincinnati Reds (his storied run with the Brooklyn Dodgers started the next season) and behind the Crosley Field radio microphone for Vander Meer’s first no-hitter on June 11 against the Boston Bees.

But because the Dodgers, Giants and Yankees were in the last season of a five-year ban on radio broadcasts from their stadiums, Vander Meer’s no-hitter at Ebbets Field on June 15 was a witness-only event, unheard on any airwave. So while Vander Meer was making history in Brooklyn, Barber was home in Cincinnati, being called by exhilarated fans who knew that his home number was listed under his wife’s name.

Forty-one years later, Barber came to the annual meeting of the Florida Association of Broadcasters. They presented him with their Gold Medal. He recalled a prayer about the “changes and chances of time,” then offered his listeners the gift of time passed.

“Something no one has,” he said. He later added, “It’s going to be yours.”

Rome Hartman attended the broadcasters’ conference, which he recalled being held in Orlando, Fla.

“It was so extemporaneous that everyone was in awe,” said Hartman, a former sportscaster who was then general manager of a radio station in West Palm Beach. “He had it in his mind because he didn’t read it off any script. It came out of his memory.”

Go ahead, and read Barber's call of the bottom of the ninth.

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Bush v Gore -- the upside

It seems that the murky, ideological, partisan, and above all, one-time-only nature of the 5-4 decision that changed history eight years ago has new life to it. And that may not be a bad thing.

“Bush v. Gore introduced an important idea,” Professor Issacharoff said. “It is that the political process has rules, the rules have to be fairly applied and that those rules need to be known up front.”

Bush v. Gore was, for instance, unapologetically at the heart of a unanimous decision last month from the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, in Cincinnati, allowing a comprehensive challenge to Ohio voting systems to move forward. The three-judge panel acknowledged the Supreme Court’s admonition about the limited precedential value of Bush v. Gore. Nonetheless, the panel said, “we find it relevant here.”

What Bush v. Gore means, the panel said, quoting from the decision itself, is that once a state grants the right to vote on equal terms, it may not “by later arbitrary and disparate treatment, value one person’s vote over that of another.” Forcing people in some parts of the state to wait many hours to vote as a consequence of the arbitrary allocation of voting machines, for instance, would violate the core principle in Bush v. Gore, the panel said.

It is possible, of course, to read Bush v. Gore more narrowly than that. The case did, after all, emerge from authentically peculiar circumstances. It may be that the decision means only something like this: A court-supervised statewide recount violates equal protection guarantees when it treats similar ballots differently by instructing local officials to use new and insufficiently specified standards.

But even versions of that narrower reading are turning out to have a practical impact.

Bush v. Gore was front and center in the briefs and arguments last week in the Minnesota Supreme Court’s consideration of the recount litigation in the Senate race between Norm Coleman and Al Franken. The candidates’ briefs cited the case some 20 times, arguing in earnest detail about how the Supreme Court’s understanding of the role of equal protection in election administration applied in Minnesota.

“Bush v. Gore has a future,” said Edward B. Foley, an election-law specialist at Ohio State. “We’re now starting to see it. There is a sense, eight years later, that some of the initial reaction was an overreaction.”

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Happy Festivus!

The airing of grievances may now begin.


It's a conspiracy, I tells ya

As Krugman notes, liberals are conspiracy theorists, conservatives are highly paid political commentators.


Monday, December 22, 2008

It's like being a NASCAR sponsor...

...except in this case it's the race to the bottom. And Toyota, Honda, and Nissan are abetted in their efforts to lower US auto workers' wages by -- you betcha -- Southern Republican Senators (that description is redundant isn't it?).

When one compares how the auto industry and the financial sector are being treated by Congress, the double standard is staggering. In the financial sector, employee compensation makes up a huge percentage of costs. According to the New York state comptroller, it accounted for more than 60% of 2007 revenues for the seven largest financial firms in New York.

At Goldman Sachs, for example, employee compensation made up 71% of total operating expenses in 2007. In the auto industry, by contrast, autoworker compensation makes up less than 10% of the cost of manufacturing a car. Hundreds of billions were given to the financial-services industry with barely a question about compensation; the auto bailout, however, was sunk on this issue alone.

UAW President Ron Gettelfinger realized that the existence of the union was under attack, which is why he refused to give in to the Senate Republicans' demands that the UAW make further concessions. I say "further" because the union has already conceded a lot. Its 2007 contract introduced a two-tier contract to pay new hires $15 an hour (instead of $28) with no defined pension plan and dramatic cuts to their health insurance. In addition, the UAW agreed that healthcare benefits for existing retirees would be transferred from the auto companies to an independent trust. With the transferring of the healthcare costs, the labor cost gap between the Big Three and the foreign transplants will be almost eliminated by the end of the current contracts.

These concessions go some distance toward leveling the playing field (retiree costs are still a factor for the Big Three). But what the foreign car companies want is to level -- which is to say, wipe out -- the union. They currently discourage their workforce from organizing by paying wages comparable to the Big Three's UAW contracts. In fact, Toyota's per-hour wages are actually above UAW wages.

However, an internal Toyota report, leaked to the Detroit Free Press last year, reveals that the company wants to slash $300 million out of its rising labor costs by 2011. The report indicated that Toyota no longer wants to "tie [itself] so closely to the U.S. auto industry." Instead, the company intends to benchmark the prevailing manufacturing wage in the state in which a plant is located. The Free Press reported that in Kentucky, where the company is headquartered, this wage is $12.64 an hour, according to federal labor statistics, less than half Toyota's $30-an-hour wage.

So, it seems that McConnell, Shelby, Cocker, et al., were acting on behalf of their constituents when they poison pilled the bridge loan legislation last week. Those constituents being Japanese automakers. Cause they sure ain't workers in the states they represent.

Via Tapped.

If the story about Toyota's losses on All Things Considered this afternoon is any indication, then one positive about this is the debunking -- albeit slowly -- of the myth that UAW workers make twice as much as auto workers in southern Japanese company plants and that payroll costs are anything but a tiny part of the cost of a car.

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Blue Monday -- Janis edition

& the Holding Company

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Neo-Hooverite of the Day

Lamar Alexander.

Mr. Alexander, the senior senator from Tennessee and chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, offers the usual invocations about seeking agreement with his former colleague who is moving into the White House. Indeed, he likens Mr. Obama’s moment to his own election 30 years ago as a reform-minded governor who received cooperation from a Democratic-controlled Legislature in Nashville.

Yet the Washington of today no more resembles Nashville than it resembled Austin, Tex., where Gov. George W. Bush served as a self-styled “uniter, not a divider.” And Mr. Alexander’s interpretation of the Election Day verdict hardly matches that of whom he calls the “hyper-partisan” Democrats on Capitol Hill.

“The change that people voted for was a change in management,” he said in an interview. “If they think the change the country elected them to provide was a lurch to the left, they’re in for a big surprise.”

What is a lurch to the left? Big spending, among other things. As Obama advisers prepare an economic stimulus program approaching $1 trillion for swift Congressional action, Mr. Alexander sounded a note of caution. “I don’t even want to think about a number that big,” he said. “We’re going to have to have a long discussion about what kind of stimulus package.”


“I’m skeptical about subsidies for energy,” said Mr. Alexander, 68, a member of the Appropriations Committee. Instead of financing “giant wind turbines” — a power source he has long criticized — “I’d much rather spend that money on energy research.”

Ah, irony. Research is important and I'm pretty sure it will be a part of Obama's agenda. But putting people to work seems to be a foreign concept to Republican leadership.

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Happy Chanukah

May your heat stay on for the next 8 days.

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Sunday, December 21, 2008

"How did we get here?"

Yes, there were plenty of culprits who greased the skids for our economic train wreck. Seems to me it was in very few people's interest to let the air out of the housing bubble, except those who couldn't afford to buy a home, and there were mortgage backed securities for that little problem. But, as the latest in the Times' series, "The Reckoning" reminds us, the toxic combination of stagnant incomes for most Americans, rising home prices that tended to conceal that, and an administration ideologically opposed to fettering financial institutions was what truly brought events to the boil they're still at.

The president’s first chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission promised a “kinder, gentler” agency. The second was pushed out amid industry complaints that he was too aggressive. Under its current leader, the agency failed to police the catastrophic decisions that toppled the investment bank Bear Stearns and contributed to the current crisis, according to a recent inspector general’s report.

As for Mr. Bush’s banking regulators, they once brandished a chain saw over a 9,000-page pile of regulations as they promised to ease burdens on the industry. When states tried to use consumer protection laws to crack down on predatory lending, the comptroller of the currency blocked the effort, asserting that states had no authority over national banks.

The administration won that fight at the Supreme Court. But Roy Cooper, North Carolina’s attorney general, said, “They took 50 sheriffs off the beat at a time when lending was becoming the Wild West.”

The president did push rules aimed at forcing lenders to more clearly explain loan terms. But the White House shelved them in 2004, after industry-friendly members of Congress threatened to block confirmation of his new housing secretary.

And this passage makes their behavior here -- as in so many areas -- criminal.

Armando Falcon Jr. was preparing to take on a couple of giants.

A soft-spoken Texan, Mr. Falcon ran the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight, a tiny government agency that oversaw Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, two pillars of the American housing industry. In February 2003, he was finishing a blockbuster report that warned the pillars could crumble.

Created by Congress, Fannie and Freddie — called G.S.E.’s, for government-sponsored entities — bought trillions of dollars’ worth of mortgages to hold or sell to investors as guaranteed securities. The companies were also Washington powerhouses, stuffing lawmakers’ campaign coffers and hiring bare-knuckled lobbyists.

Mr. Falcon’s report outlined a worst-case situation in which Fannie and Freddie could default on debt, setting off “contagious illiquidity in the market” — in other words, a financial meltdown. He also raised red flags about the companies’ soaring use of derivatives, the complex financial instruments that economic experts now blame for spreading the housing collapse.

Today, the White House cites that report — and its subsequent effort to better regulate Fannie and Freddie — as evidence that it foresaw the crisis and tried to avert it. Bush officials recently wrote up a talking points memo headlined “G.S.E.’s — We Told You So.”

But the back story is more complicated. To begin with, on the day Mr. Falcon issued his report, the White House tried to fire him.

At the time, Fannie and Freddie were allies in the president’s quest to drive up homeownership rates; Franklin D. Raines, then Fannie’s chief executive, has fond memories of visiting Mr. Bush in the Oval Office and flying aboard Air Force One to a housing event. “They loved us,” he said.

So when Mr. Falcon refused to deep-six his report, Mr. Raines took his complaints to top Treasury officials and the White House. “I’m going to do what I need to do to defend my company and my position,” Mr. Raines told Mr. Falcon.

Days later, as Mr. Falcon was in New York preparing to deliver a speech about his findings, his cellphone rang. It was the White House personnel office, he said, telling him he was about to be unemployed.

His warnings were buried in the next day’s news coverage, trumped by the White House announcement that Mr. Bush would replace Mr. Falcon, a Democrat appointed by Bill Clinton, with Mark C. Brickell, a leader in the derivatives industry that Mr. Falcon’s report had flagged.

UPDATE: "They're," "their," there"...what's the diff?


Friday, December 19, 2008

Agreeing to disagree

I can somewhat understand Obama's choice of gay hater, Rick Warren, to give the invocation; it's a hand out to evangelicals (though how he thinks they'll accept it from a president they consider a "holocaust denier," I dunno), and Warren's done good work in Africa.

But I think there is one argument I've heard that trumps all others, pro and con. Obama would not, under the guise of "dialog," have thought of inviting an inveterate racist preacher.


The Maddoff economy

Krugman notes that it's pretty much been one vast Ponzi Scheme.

Let’s start with those paychecks. Last year, the average salary of employees in “securities, commodity contracts, and investments” was more than four times the average salary in the rest of the economy. Earning a million dollars was nothing special, and even incomes of $20 million or more were fairly common. The incomes of the richest Americans have exploded over the past generation, even as wages of ordinary workers have stagnated; high pay on Wall Street was a major cause of that divergence.

But surely those financial superstars must have been earning their millions, right? No, not necessarily. The pay system on Wall Street lavishly rewards the appearance of profit, even if that appearance later turns out to have been an illusion.

Consider the hypothetical example of a money manager who leverages up his clients’ money with lots of debt, then invests the bulked-up total in high-yielding but risky assets, such as dubious mortgage-backed securities. For a while — say, as long as a housing bubble continues to inflate — he (it’s almost always a he) will make big profits and receive big bonuses. Then, when the bubble bursts and his investments turn into toxic waste, his investors will lose big — but he’ll keep those bonuses.

O.K., maybe my example wasn’t hypothetical after all.

So, how different is what Wall Street in general did from the Madoff affair? Well, Mr. Madoff allegedly skipped a few steps, simply stealing his clients’ money rather than collecting big fees while exposing investors to risks they didn’t understand. And while Mr. Madoff was apparently a self-conscious fraud, many people on Wall Street believed their own hype. Still, the end result was the same (except for the house arrest): the money managers got rich; the investors saw their money disappear.

Did the heavy snow that's hit the Tri-state area do anything to lighten today's activity at the Casino?


Helplessly hoping I won't slide into that other car

Because it's snowing in New England.

Because it's snowing in New England.

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Thursday, December 18, 2008


It seems that boom and bust is hard-wired into our brains.


Inaugural address Thursday

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, March 4, 1933

Yet our distress comes from no failure of substance. We are stricken by no plague of locusts. Compared with the perils which our forefathers conquered because they believed and were not afraid, we have still much to be thankful for. Nature still offers her bounty and human efforts have multiplied it. Plenty is at our doorstep, but a generous use of it languishes in the very sight of the supply. Primarily this is because the rulers of the exchange of mankind's goods have failed, through their own stubbornness and their own incompetence, have admitted their failure, and abdicated. Practices of the unscrupulous money changers stand indicted in the court of public opinion, rejected by the hearts and minds of men.

True they have tried, but their efforts have been cast in the pattern of an outworn tradition. Faced by failure of credit they have proposed only the lending of more money. Stripped of the lure of profit by which to induce our people to follow their false leadership, they have resorted to exhortations, pleading tearfully for restored confidence. They know only the rules of a generation of self-seekers. They have no vision, and when there is no vision the people perish.

The money changers have fled from their high seats in the temple of our civilization. We may now restore that temple to the ancient truths. The measure of the restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit.

Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort. The joy and moral stimulation of work no longer must be forgotten in the mad chase of evanescent profits. These dark days will be worth all they cost us if they teach us that our true destiny is not to be ministered unto but to minister to ourselves and to our fellow men.

Recognition of the falsity of material wealth as the standard of success goes hand in hand with the abandonment of the false belief that public office and high political position are to be valued only by the standards of pride of place and personal profit; and there must be an end to a conduct in banking and in business which too often has given to a sacred trust the likeness of callous and selfish wrongdoing. Small wonder that confidence languishes, for it thrives only on honesty, on honor, on the sacredness of obligations, on faithful protection, on unselfish performance; without them it cannot live.

Restoration calls, however, not for changes in ethics alone. This Nation asks for action, and action now.


We face the arduous days that lie before us in the warm courage of the national unity; with the clear consciousness of seeking old and precious moral values; with the clean satisfaction that comes from the stem performance of duty by old and young alike. We aim at the assurance of a rounded and permanent national life.

We do not distrust the future of essential democracy. The people of the United States have not failed. In their need they have registered a mandate that they want direct, vigorous action. They have asked for discipline and direction under leadership. They have made me the present instrument of their wishes. In the spirit of the gift I take it.

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Multiple choice answers

A U.S. diplomat says Russia plans to "test" the new Obama administration.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) — Russia has become more rigid in dealing with the United States on issues like the Bush administration’s plans for a missile shield in Europe, and it looks ready to test the administration of President-elect Barack Obama, a senior American diplomat said Wednesday.

The diplomat, John Rood, under secretary of state for arms control and international security, said that talks in Moscow this week had failed to narrow differences between Russia and the United States on the missile shield plan and suggested that Russia was pausing to take stock of the Obama team.

“They have paused with the election of a new administration in the United States, and they are looking carefully at the position of the new team,” Mr. Rood told reporters.

“My assessment is that the Russians intend to test the mettle of the new administration and the new president,” he said.

Russia’s stance on the missile shield and other issues was less flexible, Mr. Rood said, than it had been in previous talks.

Russia rejects the American position that it needs to place interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar system in the Czech Republic to shield Europe and the United States from potential missile strikes from Iran.

Except...there has been no indication that Obama supports such a "missile shield," has there? Seems to me that it is Rood who is "testing" the incoming administration. Or, actually, trying to put Obama in a position in which he'll look like he's backing down from a bullying Russia if he fails to wholeheartedly support a missile shield which may or may not even work (seems the stuff of fantasy to me).

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The key to GOP survival

The family business

Politics in America has quite often been a family business -- look at the Adams family for chrissakes -- so to decide, as Politico has done, that this is a phenomenon of the Democratic Party is bizarre. I know George W. is deeply unpopular, but to forget the Bush family in all of this is absurd. And to place Jesse Jackson Jr. in this line of thought is deeply insulting to the grandson of a sharecropper.


"More than insubstantial"

The Ponzi scheme unwinds.

“I am gravely concerned by the apparent multiple failures over at least a decade to thoroughly investigate these allegations or at any point to seek formal authority to pursue them,” Mr. Cox said.

Moreover, Mr. Cox said, the commission will investigate “all staff contact and relationships with the Madoff family and firm, and their impact, if any, on decisions by staff regarding the firm.” Mr. Cox added that he had ordered S.E.C. staff to recuse themselves from the investigation if they had “more than insubstantial personal contacts with Mr. Madoff or his family.”

One of the commission’s investigative teams that had examined the Madoff firm was headed by a lawyer named Eric Swanson, who served for 10 years as a lawyer at the commission and left in 2006 while he was an assistant director of the office of compliance inspections and examinations in Washington.

In 2007, Mr. Swanson married Shana Madoff, a niece of Bernard L. Madoff and daughter of his brother, Peter Madoff, the firm’s chief compliance officer. Ms. Madoff is the firm’s compliance attorney.

That sounds more than insubstantial.

I feel certain, Dear Reader, that like me, you await with all the anticipation of a child at Christmas, to see how many more Ponzi schemes are about to collapse.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Shifting reactions to torture...and shoes

Eric Martin has two important posts at Obsidian Wings. In the first, he gathers the response to the bipartisan report on torture, the Bush administration's frequent lies about it, and the unsurprising shift in attitudes by the Right.

In the second, he ridicules the Right side of the -osphere again, this time for their reactions to the shoe-throwing incident in which they take ungrateful Iraqis to task for not showing enough love for the man who has left Iraq with hundreds of thousands dead, tortured, or turned to refugees.

Both are too important and insightful to reduce to pull quotes, but one thing did strike me:

Whether or not the flypaper theory was part of the calculus before the invasion, or just a convenient ex post facto rationalization, war supporters from the President and Vice President down have repeated the argument that by virtue of the invasion, and maintenance of troops in Iraq, we can attract al-Qaeda and other extremists to Iraq and "fight them there so we don't have to fight them here." Just today Bush reiterated this point:

Bush: There have been no attacks since I have been president, since 9/11. One of the major theaters against al Qaeda turns out to have been Iraq. This is where al Qaeda said they were going to take their stand. This is where al Qaeda was hoping to take ...

Raddatz: But not until after the U.S. invaded.

Bush: Yeah, that's right. So what?

So what? Really? I imagine some Iraqis might, you know, care that their country was turned into bait to lure combatants.
I imagine so, too; it's why the shoe thrower is now a national hero in Iraq. But what especially struck me is that as the Bush administration begins its slow fade, we're hearing more and more from them and their dead-enders a common theme: that al Qaeda hasn't attacked us on our soil since 9/11 (forgetting the guy who tried to take down the Brooklyn Bridge with a blow-torch, but for sake of argument, let's agree that what they say is true).

So, okay, al Qaeda hasn't attacked us on our soil since 9/11. In the words of Bush, "So what?" More precisely, why would they? Bin Liden didn't, as Bush and the Right claim, "Hate us for our freedoms." As I've long understood it, he hated America primarily for a few very specific reasons, most especially because American troops were stationed in the land of Mecca and Medina, a grave humiliation in B.L.'s eyes. Those troops are gone, removed in response to the attack of 9/11. In other words, Bin Laden's grievances at the time were answered.

Fresh reasons to hate us have surely replaced that one, and new ones are always right around the corner, no doubt. For instance, American troops are now stationed in Iraq, a place with its own sites holy to Sunni Muslims. For now, though, it seems al Qaeda is content to attack the fly paper, such as it is.

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Torturing Blagojevich, torturing in our name

I was thinking a deep thought: Perhaps if more American journalists had asked Bush somewhat more rigorous questions during the run-up to the Iraq invasion, an Iraqi journalist wouldn't have felt compelled to throw his loafers at the President of the United States.

Anyway, as Greenwald alludes, it would be peachy if during Obama's next news conference, journalists would ask the president-elect slightly less about a meaningless act of corruption in Chicago (that might not even have been illegal) and slightly...anything...about the bipartisan Senate report -- released only last Thursday -- indicating that the torture and abuse of Iraqi and Afghani prisoners was the result of actions by the highest ranking members of the Bush administration, including Bush himself.

This Report was issued on Thursday. Not a single mention was made of it on any of the Sunday news talk shows, with the sole exception being when John McCain told George Stephanopoulos that it was "not his job" to opine on whether criminal prosecutions were warranted for the Bush officials whose policies led to these crimes. What really matters, explained McCain, was not that we get caught up in the past, but instead, that we ensure this never happens again -- yet, like everyone else who makes this argument, he offered no explanation as to how we could possibly ensure that "it never happens again" if we simultaneously announce that our political leaders will be immunized, not prosecuted, when they commit war crimes. Doesn't that mindset, rather obviously, substantially increase the likelihood -- if not render inevitable -- that such behavior will occur again? Other than that brief exchange, this Senate Report was a non-entity on the Sunday shows.

Instead, TV pundits were consumed with righteous anger over the petty, titillating, sleazy Rod Blagojevich scandal, competing with one another over who could spew the most derision and scorn for this pitiful, lowly, broken individual and his brazen though relatively inconsequential crimes. Every exciting detail was vouyeristically and meticulously dissected by political pundits -- many, if not most, of whom have never bothered to acquaint themselves with any of the basic facts surrounding the monumental Bush lawbreaking and war crimes scandals. TV "journalists" who have never even heard of the Taguba report -- the incredible indictment issued by a former U.S. General, who subsequently observed: "there is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes. The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account" -- spent the weekend opining on the intricacies of Blogojevich's hair and terribly upsetting propensity to use curse words.

Emphasis Greenwald's, of course.


2008 in pitchers

It's been a helluva year, part 1.

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The lefty blogosphere is imploding...imploding, I tells ya...with disagreement over whether NY Gov. Paterson should appoint Caroline Kennedy to Clinton's senate seat. Ms. Kennedy apparently is serious about wanting it.

Personally, I think talk of a "dynasty" is overblown and, frankly, unfair, given the Kennedy family's extraordinary commitment to public service. Caroline has worked hard behind the scenes for NY public schools and most recently showed enormous discretion and ability in leading the VP vetting process for Obama, proving that she knows her way around Washington. While intensely private (and refusing to cash in on her name), she's written extensively on the Bill of Rights and the Right to Privacy, indicating that her values are decidedly progressive.

And I've had a crush on her all of my life, but not, I hope, in a creepy way.


Doesn't anyone here know how to handle a bailout?

In a season of mind-boggling events, this seems particularly boggling.

It’s a $138 billion mystery.

In the early hours of Sept. 15, after the government refused to rescue the foundering Lehman Brothers, something odd happened. The Federal Reserve lent tens of billions of dollars to a subsidiary of the newly bankrupt bank.

In other words, government officials who had refused to risk taxpayers’ money on Lehman before it collapsed did just that after it collapsed.

On Monday the Fed lent the Lehman unit $87 billion through JPMorgan Chase. After being repaid on Tuesday, it lent another $51 billion — putting the bailout, arguably, in the same league as the initial $85 billion bailout for the American International Group.

This mystery loan is just one piece of the larger Lehman puzzle. Who lost Lehman? Why, and how? Three months later, those questions still nag.

Transparency. Trust. Remember those?

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Monday, December 15, 2008

"He's the archenemy of the entire world"

At this time of year, I generally don't wish misfortune on anyone. But, sheesh, can "Valkyrie" mark the end of Tom Cruise's career?

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Alphabet City

Steve Goldmand writes the post I had intended to write, only he's smarter and a better writer.


Blue Monday, Red Blues edition

A diseased party

I really wish I had something insightful to say about These Great Times in which a vast ponzi scheme is apparently counting as its victims such disparate folks as the owner of the Mets, hair stylists, and European banks, while a sitting U.S. president has shoes thrown at him in Iraq, but I don't.

What I can say is that Senate Republicans are a weird bunch. Their antipathy to unions has led them to act in a way that is against the interests of dealership owners (generally Republicans), automakers in their own states (as parts suppliers go out of business), and, ya know, people living in the United States.

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Saturday, December 13, 2008

Forgiving Vitter

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Lincoln life masks

Edward Rothstein's essay today in the Times, about the new show about Lincoln at the National Portraits Gallery, is typically erudite. But it's worth clicking over to to see the two life masks of Lincoln, one from 1860 and the other from 1865, two months before he was murdered. Time takes a devastating toll on most presidents, but what those five years did to Lincoln's face is almost supernatural.


"Back to the Primitive"

Seems appropriate. NSFW.


Heckuva job

All those southern Senate Republicans, explaining in their oily drawls that they won't bailout Detroit unless UAW workers earn wages similar to those paid to workers of foreign car companies that happen to make cars in their states, really are doing their German and Japanese overlords a helluva favor it appears:

Shares in European automakers plunged, after similar declines in Asia. In Europe, shares in the French auto giant Renault were down 7.2 percent while Volkswagen, the German carmaker, was down a more modest 0.7 percent.

Shares in Toyota Motor and Nissan fell more than 10 percent and Honda plunged 13.4 percent, while Hyundai in South Korea was 7.7 percent lower. Asian automakers have suffered along with their peers elsewhere from a dramatic decline in demand this year as the United States, Japan and many European countries slipped into recession.

Our descent into a Hobbesian future continues.


Wage cuts only good for the middle class

It's funny, I don't recall Senate GOP members demanding wage cuts for banks and investment banks. I wonder why.

And, as Josh Marshall asks, why is the fate of the nation's manufacturing sector up to a group of lame duck Republicans?

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

A determined bunch

Make no mistake, the Republican party will do all it can to block legislation intended to halt or delay the collapse of the economy if that legislation does not neatly fit into their ideological world view. That is, if legislation is intended to help homeowners or to keep union workers in their jobs, or if it attempts to reform the deregulated systems that have derailed the financial system, it will simply will not get the 10 enough GOP votes it needs to pass the Senate. Democrats are, in Digby's words, choosing technocratic competence over ideology, but Republicans will have none of it.

Exhibit one:

More than any administration official, Mrs. Bair has called publicly for using billions of taxpayer dollars to finance the modification of loans threatened by default. But her advocacy has contributed to a battle that is pitting White House and Treasury officials against the F.D.I.C. and lawmakers in Congress. The discord has influenced programs that have so far proved insufficient to stem a tide of foreclosures that Moody’s expects will affect 10 million homeowners over the next five years. And it is drawing personal conflicts and animosities into the policy-making process.

White House and Treasury officials argue that Mrs. Bair’s high-profile campaigning is meant to promote herself while making them look heartless. As a result, they have begun excluding Mrs. Bair from some discussions, though she remains active in conversations where the F.D.I.C.’s support is needed, like the Citigroup rescue.

A Treasury official involved in the discussions said that while Mrs. Bair was seen as a valuable part of the team, there was a sense of distrust and a concern that she always seemed to be pushing her own agenda.

Mrs. Bair, for her part, says she has always sought to work constructively with other officials and is one of the few voices within the administration pushing for a comprehensive program to help at-risk borrowers.

“I’ve heard the stories of people who are suffering and can stay in their homes if there is just a small adjustment to their loans,” said Mrs. Bair, a Republican who was appointed to her post by President Bush two years ago. “There are some people in the Republican Party who resent the idea of helping others,” she added. “But the market is broken right now, and unless we intervene, these people and the economy won’t be helped.”

And exhibit two:

WASHINGTON — The prospects of a $14 billion government rescue of the American auto industry seemed to vaporize Thursday as the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, spoke out forcefully against the bill, effectively ending its chances despite the urgings of the White House.

In a speech on the Senate floor, Mr. McConnell said he and other Republicans had drawn a clear distinction between the Treasury’s $700 billion economic stabilization, which they helped pass in October, and the proposal to aid the American automakers, which he said raised questions about which industries or individuals deserve help.

“A lot of struggling Americans are wondering where their bailout is,” Mr. McConnell declared. Although Mr. McConnell voiced support of an alternative plan that was developed by Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee, it seemed unlikely that there was any possibility of compromise at this late point in the year. But some Congressional aides still expressed hope and said talks would continue.

Expect this to harden even further when Obama takes office, despite the fact that Obama may be even less hated by the GOP than is George W. Bush.

UPDATE: Actually, 10 Republicans did vote for the measure, but that wasn't enough.

Speaking of last night, several readers have written to note that the vote to end the Republican filibuster did not fall strictly along party lines. Four Democrats voted with the GOP to block a vote on the bill: Max Baucus of Montana, Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, John Tester of Montana, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.

It's worth keeping in mind that Reid's vote was purely procedural. Reid supported the legislation, but wanted to reserve the right to bring the bill back to the floor. Under Senate rules, that means he had to vote against it, even though he supported it. This was just a procedural move the Majority Leader frequently uses on failed cloture votes.

As for Baucus, Lincoln, and Tester, they voted with the Republicans because they actually opposed the bill.

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Hilzoy approves of the Obama transition team's good sense.

I don't yet know enough about these people to say much, though from what I can tell, they sound like very strong picks. (More on the whole team here, here, and here; on Chu here and here; on Browner here; and on Jackson here.) But I was absolutely thrilled by one fact in this post: the claim that Obama and his team do not plan to use the word 'czar'.

Thank heavens. We've had drug czars, energy czars; we may yet get a car czar. I'm tired of czars. And why czars, anyways? They didn't do all that well in Russia, as far as I can tell. If we have to go against our democratic traditions, why not an Imperator, or a Pharoah, or a Basileus, or a Mikado? For that matter, why not an Energy Yang di-Pertuan Agong, or an Oba of Energy, or an Energy Tlatoani?

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Rebooting our reputation

Although I applaud Obama's decision to include his middle name when he takes the oath of office next month -- if for no other reason that it will further drive wingnuttia to demented despair -- I don't think that will have much effect if he listens to the handwringers who think legalizing Guantanamo is a good idea.

But even as President-elect Obama repeats his oft-made promise to shutter the prison that has so besmirched the nation's reputation, some legal experts, and not just those on the right, are talking about giving him the right to open a new Gitmo here at home. An extraordinary debate is under way about whether Congress should expressly authorize the new president to do what the outgoing president did on his own claimed authority: imprison alleged terrorists without charge or trial.

It may surprise some to learn that in the waning days of the Bush administration, there is an emerging narrative in Washington think-tank circles -- a narrative that shows signs of congealing into "bipartisan consensus" -- that Congress should enact a law that expressly permits such detention. What underlies the consensus is the theory that our criminal justice system is unequal to the task of detaining terrorists in a dangerous world. The impetus for this discussion is the likelihood that an Obama administration will, in fact, move to close Guantánamo, and its urgency is supplied by the claim that among the 250 prisoners still imprisoned there are many who are too dangerous to release, but too difficult to prosecute. Accordingly, the argument goes, unless Congress devises a new legal framework for detaining terrorism suspects for preventive purposes, the closing of Guantánamo means that hordes of terrorists will be released to carry on their war against America.

Proponents of a new detention-without-trial regime contend that there are a sizable number of detainees at Guantánamo whose release would pose an unacceptable risk, but whose prosecution in our traditional criminal justice system would face insurmountable obstacles. For example, Matthew Waxman, who held senior positions in both the State and Defense Departments under President Bush and now teaches at Columbia Law School, states that "criminal prosecutions [of Guantánamo detainees] should be carried out whenever possible," but insists that "the evidence against a particular suspect often can't be presented in open civilian court without compromising intelligence sources and methods," and furthermore, that "the evidence may not be admissible under U.S. criminal law rules." Benjamin Wittes, a Brookings Institution scholar and author of "Law and the Long War," which advocates a new detention regime, is more blunt in explaining why some terrorism suspects cannot be criminally prosecuted: "because they have not committed crimes cognizable under American law, because evidence against them was collected in the rough and tumble of warfare and would be excluded under various evidentiary rules, or because the evidence is tainted by coercion." For those reasons, Wittes contends, Congress must move quickly to enact a law that would authorize the long-term detention without trial of suspected terrorists, following some kind of judicial process to assess the dangerousness of the detainee.


But perhaps the most salient flaw in the current crop of detention proposals is that they are solutions in search of a problem. The class of people who cannot be prosecuted but are too dangerous to let go is either very small or nonexistent. To the extent that it exists at all, it is a class that was created by the administration's torture policies. To build a system of detention without trial in order to accommodate those torture policies would be a legal and moral catastrophe, a mistake of historic proportions.

How an Obama administration chooses to tackle these issues will determine, in large part, the legal legacy of the last eight years. Even the clearest renunciation of torture will be an empty gesture if we simultaneously construct a new detention regime meant to permit prosecutors to rely on torture's fruits. That our justice system prohibits the imprisonment of human beings on the basis of evidence that was beaten, burned, frozen or drowned out of them is evidence of its strength, not its weakness. It is why we call it a "justice system" in the first place.

It is possible, though unlikely, that one consequence of the Bush administration's criminal embrace of torture is that the United States will be compelled to release an individual who might otherwise have been prosecutable for terrorism. Were this to occur, it would not be the first time that our commitment to the rule of law has required that we let a potentially dangerous person walk free. We can accept this risk as an inherent cost of freedom, or we can diminish that freedom in a misguided -- and shortsighted -- attempt to reduce that risk. The choice we make will not determine the nation's survival. It will, however, shape its identity.

Read, as they say, the whole thing.

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Blinded me with science

Change we can believe...yeah, I know.

Dr. Chu will be taking on one of the most challenging jobs in government at the Department of Energy. He will be responsible for the maintenance and development of the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile, as well as for modernizing the nation’s electrical power delivery system.

He will also play a central role in directing the research and development of alternative energy sources needed to replace fossil fuels in a era of constrained carbon emissions. Mr. Chu shared a Nobel Prize in physics in 1997 for work on supercooled atoms.

At the Lawrence Berkeley laboratory, he has sponsored research into biofuels and solar energy and has been a strong advocate of controlling greenhouse gas emissions.

Scott Segal, director of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, an industry group, said he was pleased that Dr. Chu had the technical expertise to realistically assess future energy technologies.

“His experience seems to dovetail perfectly with the president-elect’s commitment to bringing new energy technology to market in a timely fashion,” Mr. Segal said. “An understanding of the art of the possible in energy technology will be critical to the development of a cost-effective climate change policy.”

UPDATE: Here's Chu speaking at the National Energy Summit the other day.


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Blagojevich and the childrens hospital

Yes, the newsy part of the story is Blago's calling Obama a motherfucker, and his wife -- like some grotesque greek chorus -- overheard telling her husband to "fuck the Tribune, and certainly the governor's sheer stupidity to say, out loud, that a Senate seat's a fucking valuable thing.

But that's just a craven pol and his equally craven wife.

The sumbitch was apparently pulling far nastier shit then listing a Senate seat on eBay, and if the allegations are true, deserves the epic fail he's now going through, in excrutiating slo-mo. From the indictment:

On October 8, Blagojevich told a person described only as "Individual A" that he was willing to make $8 million available for Children's Memorial Hospital, but "I want to get [Hospital Executive 1] for 50."

Individual A felt that Blagojevich was talking about a $50,000 campaign contribution from the hospital's chief executive officer and that the $8 million referred to a recent commitment by Blagojevich to secure state funds via "some type of pediatric care reimbursement." "Intercepted phone conversations between Rod Blagojevich and others indicate that Rod Blagojevich is contemplating rescinding his commitment of state funds to benefit Children's Memorial Hospital because Hospital Executive 1 has not made a recent campaign contribution," the affidavit says.

Those who are saying today that Obama should have demanded his resignation, um, I guess 12 hours earlier than he did, don't seem aware that normal people could not believe Blagojevitch showed up for work today and assumed he'd resign to spend more time with the family and, ya know, work on his defense.

Nevertheless, the Mighty Wurlitzer is cranking up.

UPDATED: Fixed the quote.

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Ratings, or, What will we tell the children?

From the Times' review of Wendy and Lucy:

“Wendy and Lucy” is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). It has some swearing, a little drug use and a brief implication of violence, but no nudity, sex or murder. The rating seems to reflect, above all, an impulse to protect children from learning that people are lonely and that life can be hard.


C.C. and M.C.

Looks like Sabathia's dream of pitching nearer his Vallejo, CA home town won't come true due to the complete lack of offers from any team west of the Hudson (I'm not counting the Brewers), and he'll have to settle for the Yankees' 7 year/$160 million offer.

Two things come to mind:

1. We can only hope that his arm won't fall off after the workload the Brewers subjected him to (with his enthusiastic support) last September; and

2. Teixiera, now, please. As good as Sabathia is -- and he's really very good -- he only takes the mound every five days. In between those starts the team's infield defense is woeful and the offense, as currently built, is anemic.

UPDATED to fix a typo


The blago-sphere

$73 an hour

David Leonhardt actually explains where this number came from and why it's misleading.

Let’s start with the numbers. The $73-an-hour figure comes from the car companies themselves. As part of their public relations strategy during labor negotiations, the companies put out various charts and reports explaining what they paid their workers. Wall Street analysts have done similar calculations.

The calculations show, accurately enough, that for every hour a unionized worker puts in, one of the Big Three really does spend about $73 on compensation. So the number isn’t made up. But it is the combination of three very different categories.

The first category is simply cash payments, which is what many people imagine when they hear the word “compensation.” It includes wages, overtime and vacation pay, and comes to about $40 an hour. (The numbers vary a bit by company and year. That’s why $73 is sometimes $70 or $77.)

The second category is fringe benefits, like health insurance and pensions. These benefits have real value, even if they don’t show up on a weekly paycheck. At the Big Three, the benefits amount to $15 an hour or so.

Add the two together, and you get the true hourly compensation of Detroit’s unionized work force: roughly $55 an hour. It’s a little more than twice as much as the typical American worker makes, benefits included. The more relevant comparison, though, is probably to Honda’s or Toyota’s (nonunionized) workers. They make in the neighborhood of $45 an hour, and most of the gap stems from their less generous benefits.

The third category is the cost of benefits for retirees. These are essentially fixed costs that have no relation to how many vehicles the companies make. But they are a real cost, so the companies add them into the mix — dividing those costs by the total hours of the current work force, to get a figure of $15 or so — and end up at roughly $70 an hour.

The crucial point, though, is this $15 isn’t mainly a reflection of how generous the retiree benefits are. It’s a reflection of how many retirees there are. The Big Three built up a huge pool of retirees long before Honda and Toyota opened plants in this country. You’d never know this by looking at the graphic behind Wolf Blitzer on CNN last week, contrasting the “$73/hour” pay of Detroit’s workers with the “up to $48/hour” pay of workers at the Japanese companies.

These retirees make up arguably Detroit’s best case for a bailout. The Big Three and the U.A.W. had the bad luck of helping to create the middle class in a country where individual companies — as opposed to all of society — must shoulder much of the burden of paying for retirement.

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Tuesday, December 09, 2008

That toddling town

Quite a day for Chicago. The U.S. Attorney indicts the state's governor. Sam Zell announces the Tribune Co. will file for bankruptcy, losing the collateral the bastard used to secure loans to buy the company-- it's employees' pensions -- in the process. And the Republic Windows and Doors workers win a round.

CHICAGO – The creditor of a Chicago plant where laid-off employees are conducting a sit-in to demand severance pay said Tuesday it would extend limited loans to the factory so it could resolve the dispute, but the workers declared their protest unfinished.

The Republic Windows and Doors factory closed last week after Bank of America canceled its financing. About 200 laid-off workers responded by staging a sit-in at the plant, vowing to stay until getting assurances they would receive severance and accrued vacation pay.

Their action garnered national attention, seen by some as a symbol of defiance for workers laid off nationwide.

A resolution appeared closer when the bank announced that it had sent a letter to Republic offering to "provide a limited amount of additional loans" to resolve the employee claims.

The bank appeared to side at least in part with disgruntled workers, expressing concern in a statement Tuesday "about Republic's failure to pay their employees the Employee Claims to which they are legally entitled."


Illegal evergreen growing

This do they say it on the internets?...oh yeah...Teh Awesome.

KopBusters rented a house in Odessa, Texas and began growing two small Christmas trees under a grow light similar to those used for growing marijuana. When faced with a suspected marijuana grow, the police usually use illegal FLIR cameras and/or lie on the search warrant affidavit claiming they have probable cause to raid the house. Instead of conducting a proper investigation which usually leads to no probable cause, the Kops lie on the affidavit claiming a confidential informant saw the plants and/or the police could smell marijuana coming from the suspected house.

The trap was set and less than 24 hours later, the Odessa narcotics unit raided the house only to find KopBuster’s attorney waiting under a system of complex gadgetry and spy cameras that streamed online to the KopBuster’s secret mobile office nearby.

Go watch the video showing the cops discovering the stash. They're chuckling about it. It will be interesting to see what probable cause they gave for the search warrant and how they identified the house in the first place. They may not be chuckling for long.

And, why Odessa, you might ask.

Cooper chose the Odessa police department for baiting because he believes police there instructed an informant to plant marijuana on a woman named Yolanda Madden. She's currently serving an eight-year sentence for possession with intent to distribute. According to Cooper, the informant actually admitted in federal court that he planted the marijuana. Madden was convicted anyway.

Hopefully, privacy laws in TX don't make it illegal to videotape the police.

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